Friday, 11 November 2016

Today...


Today is not for commercialism, or commercialisation.
It is not for dwelling on the present, but for thinking about the past.
Today is not for promotion, or indeed self-promotion.
Today is not for glitz, or bling.
It matters not how shiny or fancy or shiny your poppy, but just that you wear one.
Today is not about noise, and bustle.
It is about quiet reflection, and pausing to remember.
It is unimportant where that reflection & remembrance happens,
What matters is simply that you DO remember.
Today is not about you, but about them.

For those who gave their today, that we may have ours.
For those who never returned home.
For those who returned, but not as the person their loved ones knew previously.
For all those who served, and those who continue to serve.
For those missing family members and friends today, as a result of that service.


Thank you.

Frugal Friday...

Regular readers probably already know that I'm a member of the MSE Forums, posting mostly on the Debt Free Wannabe boards. I've been on there for years - and got SO much help from folk when we were first in the position of sorting out our finances - now I mostly tend to try to "repay" that by posting in support of others, as well as keeping up with a few longer term chums who had a longer journey to travel to get their debts cleared. My time for regular volunteering is limited - during the summer in particular I would struggle to commit many hours, but posting in support on the DFW boards is something I CAN do.

We see some truly sad stories on there - people arrive for all sorts of reasons, but the most common one is that they've suddenly realised that if they don't do something about their finances, and fast, they're going to go under. We call that their "Lightbulb Moment" or LBM - and it hits people in all sorts of ways - some are absolutely devastated, literally in bits, you can hear the tearfulness in their posts. Others are grimly determined. others still are in a blind panic and have no idea what they need to do next. Generally speaking you know within someone's first few posts whether they've truly had their LBM, though, and every now and again we get one who just doesn't *quite* "get it". Recently someone arrived on the boards who was without question at the stage of not really having realised that she was on a downwards slide. Her initial post was saying how hard it was to make ends meet, and asking in a tone of some desperation  how everyone else does it. I posted with our usual advice - that the person needs to prepare a Statement Of Affairs (SOA) so they know exactly where their money is going - in this case I noticed from previous posts that she'd been advised previously to do this but had never done so - this always rings alarm bells. Her first post also revealed that she'd consolidated debts previously, and was paying that consolidation loan off. Now consolidation is one of those things that can work for some people, but before going down that route you REALLY need to have your house in order financially - without that, you're going to repeat the same cycle and double the debt in no time. I asked if she actually knew how much her debt totalled - she said yes she did, named a figure, then proceeded to tell us about the two car loans and a loan for furniture as well...oh dear!

It's really tough if someone is just part-way there. We try to be patient, a lot of the time it's about keeping on repeating the same things. "You need to do your SOA" "You need a budget" "You need to know whether your outgoings are greater than your income" - and that last really IS the thing is all hinges on. I guess the real answer to the "how do you do it" question is to know exactly how your finances stand - once you have that information you know whether you should have a surplus, whether your income is over committed, and then you can work things out accordingly. Without that very basic info, though, you're scuppered. In this instance, she started getting hostile, she wanted someone to come along and agree with her I think, but that was never going to be helpful. She'd already told us that she had several hundred pounds per month "spare" but had no idea where it was going - someone suggested she started keeping a spending diary - to which she responded that she would "from next month" - err, no, you need to get a grip on this NOW! Someone said that they felt she'd not yet had her LBM, and others posted agreeing, and finally, after a lot of resistance and arguing, the penny dropped and she suddenly "got it".

It remains to be seen if that person actually sees things through this time. Honestly, looking at her history of consolidation, overspending, failure to budget and more consolidation, I doubt it, but we've done all we can. It's truly over to her now, and frankly, she's still failing to see her consolidation loan as "debt" and still quibbling over the basic stuff. Bottom line is if you're in debt, and struggling, only you can make the decision to break the cycle and sort it out. Others can offer help, and support, but the legwork has to be done by the individual. There is SUCH a culture of borrowing in the western world now, it's not surprising that people do get into trouble. Credit cards can be fantastic tools, used correctly. When they're used to enable someone to have a higher standard of living than their income allows, though, that's just plain dangerous. Thankfully the banks are starting to wake up to this now and are acting accordingly. The tendency to simply increase credit limits without reference to the customer is dying out - and unusual spending patterns tend to get picked up on. Mortgage companies have far tighter rules on borrowing now than they did - when we took our mortgage out in 2003 it was a 110% Mortgage - these are rightly pretty much non-existent now. We knew we could afford ours but how many people took these out and then found themselves struggling?  I'd happily use a 0% on purchases credit card for a larger spend, but only once I'd saved and know that the money is safely stashed away to clear the debt when the 0% deal ends. I'd just find it too stressful otherwise, to be honest. I actively enjoy budgeting for things - I love a nice surprise, but a nasty financial one is never pleasant, after all!

Robyn

ps - if you're struggling with debt, do visit the forums at www.moneysavingexpert.com for help, advice and support.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Frugal Friday...

Well following on from last Friday's momentous action, we now need to make some decisions about where we go from here. Yes the long term aim is still Hebrides - but the time is not right quite yet for that. We ARE now in a position where if the right property was to come up for sale up there, we may consider taking a look, though. So with that aim in mind something we will definitely NOT be doing is blowing our new-found "spare" cash on exotic holidays or flashy new cars. But then you knew that already, right?

Things have changed immensely since we first started the onslaught on our finances back in 2008. Thankfully unlike so many people we never saw our home as a status symbol, so the temptation to over stretch ourselves when we originally took out our mortgage was never there.

Back in 2008 we had the mortgage, overdrafts and a loan. All of these seemed utterly normal to us at the time, although as soon as it was pointed out that there was an alternative we instantly grasped the benefits! We do seem to have a culture in the UK (although I'm assured it is similar in other parts of the western world) where living off credit is simply the "norm" - and while for some people there genuinely isn't an option around this, for the vast majority it's just that they want "stuff"without taking the time to save for it first. Martin Lewis makes a valid point about "Good" debt - for example a mortgage, for education, or for a car to provide essential transport to work or as a lifeline for those living in an area without good public transport. I'd add to that the costs that good friends of mine recently found themselves facing - that of immigration costs to enable them to live in the same country - and also in some cases to facilitate higher quality medical care than is available on the NHS in a person's local area. (Although whether this last *should* ever be required is a different subject which we'll not be getting into here!)

First job when we started this was to tackle where our money was going - on paper there was a surplus, when in fact....umm, no. Bank statements were examined. Takeaways and random unplanned treats were reined in, and the overdrafts vanished. We turned our attention to the car loan - that was paid off in 13 months rather than the 30 that it was scheduled for. Then the mortgage, and we all know where that ended now! In theory there should have been a hiccup in the middle where my income fell dramatically - in fact overnight it fell by over 50%, and is now probably still less than 50% of where it would have been had I stayed on my previous career path. There WAS no hiccup because we were already living a LONG way below our means through choice. There are aspects where we have been fortunate, but very few of these are "luck" as such - our household income is good, and our outgoings are low, but we have chosen for them to be low. Our mortgage was not a big one - but again that was a conscious choice to an extent. For a long while our property didn't appreciate in value much at all - none of the big killings that others have been able to make on property for us - but that didn't matter as we had no intention of moving on until such time as we'd paid off the mortgage anyway.  Interest rates have - by the standards of the 80's when I grew up - been low, albeit we didn't get the benefit of the super-low rates that some folk are seeing now.

Now our plan is to increase our personal spending money a little - and also increase our food budget a little per month too - to allow for more frequent purchases of things that would previously have been a treat, fresh fish for example. We'll continue to use the farmers market and local suppliers where we can. Our "joint fun" budget will increase a wee bit too. We plan to increase spending a little on weekends away - not necessarily to have more of them (god knows I'm rarely at home during the summer, anyway!) but to allow ourselves slightly less "budget" accommodation in the places where we would be going anyway, on occasion. Sometimes a Travelodge suits us perfectly, at other times a "nice" hotel will make for a more enjoyable trip. The actual mortgage money itself will still be heading straight into our savings accounts, the extra spending above will be funded from the "extra" money that we've previously diverted to the "overpayments" account - and THAT needs a new name allocated to it now, as well! All of the above will take account of less than £100 of our "spare" money - and after all we've achieved so far, we rather feel we deserve that!

Robyn



Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A simple supper & guilty pleasures...

I love spending time with MrEH - he's my best friend, as well as anything else, and we are, and have always been, quite happy in each others company for as much time as we have. Equally though we're not joined at the hip - we have different interests as well as those which we enjoy together, during the summer I have my aviation stuff, during the winter he plays rugby. Yes obviously it would be helpful if these two things overlapped on time, but life's not like that, is it! So we're happy to each let the other go off and "do their thing" - sometimes I go to rugby with him, occasionally he comes to an airshow thing with me. He gets on fine with my airshow gang, I get on fine with his rugby crowd. The rugby thing isn't just limited to the season when he's actually playing, either, as there are regular training sessions throughout the year, too, meaning that a couple of nights a week, generally speaking, we need to sort out meals that will work for us individually, rather than eating together.

For me, those evenings are a chance to just cook something really simple but tasty (MrEH usually defaults to an omelette or pasta when he gets home, I never quite know what time he will be in and this is quick and easy for him to rustle up) - often something which he would be less keen on - and then catch up on my "guilty pleasure" TV - Casualty, Escape to the Country, Amazing Spaces... I'm not massively a TV person, but do often have it on in the background while I'm processing photos - so when we're both in generally he will choose what we watch - which suits me fine!


On the food front all sorts of things might tick my boxes, and it will partly depend on what we have to use up. If we have posh bread left over from the weekend then it might be a big pile of fluffy scrambled eggs alongside (never on - soggy food, eurgh!) toast. Or sometimes a tin of soup - ThaT SupermarkeT's own Lentil and Bacon at 45p a can, for example. Yum. (And a guilty pleasure in itself!) Sometimes a bowl of salad with tuna, or small bits of bacon fried to JUST starting to crisp. And sometimes, like Monday night, the "odds and ends to use up" don't lend themselves to any of the above....2 chicken drumsticks rescued from the freezer. A few mushrooms, a handful of rocket, a single egg...and that is when I put into the play the meal that an acquaintance on MSE always referred to as a "Buddha Bowl". Now obviously as soon as you add meat or poultry you're immediately swerving this away from any sort of authenticity, but sometimes that doesn't matter, you know?


A quick Google search confirms that a traditional "Buddha Bowl" is essentially a dish containing a grain (or at least a starch of some kind), a protein and vegetables, usually with the addition of some kind of savoury sauce. I often end up forgetting the sauce though because the rest all smells so DAMNED good by the time I think about it. Last night was one of those occasions. I chose couscous as my base - easy as you like - a scoop in the base of my bowl, cover with the same quantity of boiling water, whack a plate on the top and leave it to steam which you deal with the rest.  I thickly sliced the mushrooms, I wanted chunks rather than slices, and popped those to cook off gently in a splash of rapeseed oil while I stripped the meat off the drumsticks. Once the mushroom was soft and turning golden I added in the chicken, and stirred it all about until it was thoroughly heated through. A handful of rocket was dumped on top and I turned my attention back to the couscous which was nicely plumped up by this time. A pinch of seaweed infused sea salt and a knob of chipotle butter were stirred through to give it a bit of punch, before the chicken, mushroom & rocket were thrown on the top, juices and all. The finally touch was a just-cooked single egg omelette cut into strips to top it off. Joy in a bowl. even more joyous as the whole lot was cooked in one pan, plus the bowl I ate it from. 4 items were dirtied in the making of this dish - no, hang on, 5, I forgot the fork I ate with! My kind of cooking!


Had I thought about a dressing in good time I might have gone for something like a teaspoon of tahini let down with lemon juice, and then added a sprinkle of sesame seeds for crunch. A vinaigrette with grain mustard added maybe. Or Rapeseed oil, lime juice and finely chopped coriander leaves. (I'm making myself hungry now!) Perhaps next time I should make the sauce first, while the kettle is boiling?!

Do you have a "go to" simple supper dish for nights like that?

Robyn

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

New Challenges...

I have to confess that on Saturday I woke up feeling a bit "meh" - after all the excitement over paying off the mortgage, it all felt like a bit of an anti climax after it was actually done. Mostly, friends just didn't quite "get" it - with a few exceptions who couldn't have been more delighted for us. One person I would formerly have described as a very close friend who I KNOW saw the text mentioning it (and had she for some reason not, would definitely have seen it on Twitter) chose not only to totally ignore it, but hasn't even mentioned it since - that sort of thing makes you re-evaluate, you know? We all have things going on in our lives, but I cannot imagine one SINGLE circumstance where I would let momentous news like that go without giving heartfelt congratulations to the person concerned, no matter how much there was a little bit of me sitting saying "why not me?". Hey ho, there's nowt so queer as folk, eh?

I said before that I was always just a teeny bit scared about this point - and I guess now I can say why - people just aren't meant to get to 44 and find themselves mortgage free, are they? The thing I was a little bit worried about was exactly that - that it would change the way people saw me....saw us, in fact. People don't see the hard work and effort that has gone in, the tears that were shed when I lost such a massive chunk of my income back in 2010 - and we genuinely had visions of all that work falling by the wayside (For a while I wasn't fit enough mentally to go back to even part-time work - it was at that stage that we took the decision that going forward I would only work 4 days a week, which has of course also impacted on my earning potential), the times when we've had to say "Oh no, I'm sorry, we're not about" because there just wasn't enough money to allow for us to join in with what was being proposed, or more recently the times I've had to sit mentally working out what "cheap" option I can eat off a menu so I still have enough money to stand my round of drinks because my personal spending money was so limited. Bottom line is, there is NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THESE PEOPLE - so there you go, it's out there, I'm letting it go. (But, as I've said, with certain re-evaluations of where people stand in my life and where I clearly stand in theirs). I'm not angry - it's just hurtful that I can get a warmer, more excited and congratulatory reaction from people out here in blogland than from someone I actually choose to spend time with.

So - new challenges are required. I can't imagine, now, us not having a "goal" to work to in certain areas! The first is purely financial and is to rebuild the lump sum we've just paid out to clear the mortgage as quickly as possible. We're making a few minor tweaks in what money goes where, and allowing for  a "standard of living" increase to occur - "inflation" if you like. We've always been careful to make sure that our food choices are healthy and as far as possible, ethical, but we're now aiming to be able to buy better cuts of meat when we choose to, and more things like fresh fish, and shellfish, which we love! Being able to have that stuff regularly not just as a treat will be fantastic. Our savings are now spread over three main accounts - 2 regular savers and an ISA - as well as our "routine" savings pots which allow us to budget for regular expenses. I'll post more about the money stuff in a Frugal Friday post, I think.

The second is a bit of a decluttering challenge - I've done these before, including a whole YEAR of decluttering back in 2013 - but the time feels right to do it again. I'm not doing this in any sort of structured way this time, just "taking it as it comes" and aiming to free up space. My wardrobe needs tackling, and I want to look through DVD's, and books, too. It'll be done in 15 minute bursts as that is a method that works well for me. It'll be nice to be able to get clothes in my wardrobe without having to fight with what's already in there!

Thirdly is an attack on our well stocked larder and storecupboard. We're intending to get our kitchen rebuilt later this year, and as we already know from the upheaval of the bathroom rebuild back in the spring, living in a flat does mean that this sort of work around the place causes a certain amount of upheaval which simply has less of an impact if you live in a house...and thinking about how much storage was needed to house everything from the bathroom, the thought of having to empty our kitchen into the spare room, or front room, or wherever is just terrifying! SO - the intention is to start thinking about what can be used up, with the rationale on attacking the storecupboard as well being simply this: The more free space there is in the storecupboard, the more stuff from the larder it will house when the time comes. Simple. The first stage on this is, I think, to go through the larder and work out what is in there that can simply be used, and what there is if anything that has been overlooked too long, and needs disposal. I'm hoping there's not too much of that, though, food waste makes me very cross. My bullet (ish) journal contains a rolling list of foodstuffs that I know need using, and when I do my meal plans for the week I take these into account. That helps stop us take our "eyes off the ball". While doing that we will also refill any of the containers in there that need it, and I'll establish whether there is anything in there that can be better and more tidily stored. When the kitchen is redone the inside of the Larder will be getting fully re-tiled/painted so we need to consider how best to store things from then on. I might post back here about this challenge, we'll see.

Robyn

Friday, 30 September 2016

Frugal Friday...



At 9.10am this morning I heard the words "I can confirm that you have just cleared your mortgage" down the phone - the lovely chap at Virgin Money sounded almost as pleased to say it as I did to hear it! Long term readers of this blog will know that we've been working towards this for quite a long while - since Spring 2008 in fact when a chance conversation took us from talking about overpaying our mortgage to actually doing it!

I tweeted about our new found Mortgage Free status this morning, and thanks to a RT from Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert fame it got quite a lot of interest and congratulations. LOVELY that total strangers will take the time to comment on something like that, so thank you to them! One question that was asked, though, was what tips we could give others, and that got me thinking...

Firstly - start by getting your house in order, financially. Work out exactly what your outgoings are, and what surplus you have left each month. Then check you actually DO have that amount left over - a spending diary can be helpful!

Don't just talk about overpaying, do it! People use all sorts of excuses for not getting on with it - "I don't know if my mortgage deal allows it..." ring the mortgage company and ask! "I don't know how to go about it" - usually it's as easy as asking the mortgage company to increase your Direct debit, and telling them to take OP's off the capital, not the term - that one is important! The big one is usually "I can't overpay enough to make a difference" - oh yes you can! As little as £10 a month starts to make an impact, and you can increase as time goes on. EVERYTHING extra you pay chips away at the interest you will pay over the term.

Fund your overpayments first off by making savings in your outgoings, not by reducing your standard of living. Take a look at your energy bills and if you're not on the best deal - switch! That saving can be added to the mortgage payment. Negotiate a deal with Sky or Virgin for your TV, broadband & phone - haggling with those guys works superbly and again, anything saved can go straight to the mortgage.

PLAN! If you plan upfront where your money is going, and ensure that everything is allocated to where it needs to go, you know exactly how much spare you have that can be used to fund overpayments. We have found that savings accounts attached to our current accounts work brilliantly - at the start of each month when we get paid automatic transfers send money across to those for the things we budget for - car expenses, holiday, household expenses and that sort of thing. Personal spending money gets transferred to our personal accounts, and the joint account then doesn't get touched for general spending, it;s just DD's etc that come out of it. At the end of the month any surplus got transferred to our "Mortgage OP account" and then headed across to the mortgage itselt at a suitable point.

Don't try to cut everything  back to the absolute bone. I've read so many blogs over the past few years with people not only cutting back their quality of life to zero, but berating others for not doing the same, and they all have one thing in common - they are not mortgage free now. Go at it steadily but with determination, heat your house, eat decent food, go out occasionally and have fun - those are all the things that will keep you motivated and stop you feeling as though it's too tough. Have fun, but budget for it.

Above all remember that even the tiniest saving can help. Maybe try taking the odd pennies off your account balance each time you log in to your online banking. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees, or if you are on Economy 7 electricity fit timeswitches to your washing machine and dishwasher (please take note the Fire Service urge caution on using appliances overnight/while you are out) so they can run overnight on the cheap rate. Change standard lightbulbs for low energy ones. Stocktake your kitchen cupboards, freezer and larder and challenge yourself to use up the contents thereof so saving money on your food bill.

As we sit here tonight within 4 walls that are entirely owned by us, I can 100% tell you that all the work on it has absolutely been worth it - the feeling this morning when I got off the phone was just amazing. Old habits die hard though - we're not going out for a posh meal, and there's no champagne being opened - instead it's our favourite celebration meal of an indian takeaway, and beer from the bottles we had in the larder already! Does it feel like a hardship? Does it hell!

Robyn

(ps - I totally appreciate the irony of a Frugal Friday post on a day when I spent £20,606 before breakfast!)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

And finally...

...that's the UK airshow season at a close for us. I spent yesterday at RAF Scampton for the Reds final ISP's (In season Practises) of the year - then on Thursday the jets and Circus depart for India on the first leg of their tour. The other Blues going as part of the support crew will also be heading off but their departures are staggered over several days throughout the week between now and Saturday. The next time I will see the jets fly now will probably be in the New Year, which in itself feels odd as normally this time in the year we're looking forward to winter training and all the fun and games that go along with that.

It's been another brilliant year - no question about it. From the season opener for the team at Shuttleworth in May right through to yesterday we've had so much fun again. Once again we have people leaving - my friend Nicky has already departed the Squadron having been promoted and posted into a new role. Three of the pilots will be leaving the team when they return from tour - Synchro leader Steve, and Reds 8 & 9 - Stew and Joe. They'll be missed as always when they move on. On the bright side we have a new bunch who will be moving into the coveted "Circus" roles backseating in the jets during next season - including a very good friend's husband so SHE'S over the moon at all the photos she will get of him doing his thing during 2017!

Possibly the best way possible of finishing the season, for us, was this...


...we've waited a while for that. Extra special for having Lingy (Red 10) in there too - and for me also because it's the three of us - me, Claire & Tom - who've done so much and shared so many of the amazing experiences over the past few seasons. It just wouldn't have been quite the same if one of us had missed out. Bloody epic. Smiling may happen for a while yet... ;-)

Robyn